Creativity across Learning #9 – What kind of inspection, quality assurance and accountability regimes support creativity in learning?

This is the ninth post that draws on the unpublished Creativity across Learning report of 2011. This is the final chapter and, to my mind at least, covers a highly controversial area quite sensitively.  It genuinely reflects what practitioners, teachers and school leaders, were telling us. However in the end this was probably the section that killed off any chance of publication.

The initial quote comes from Clayton Christensen’s et al Disrupting Class – How Disruptive Innovation will change the way the World Learns 

… the current education system – the way it trains teachers, the way it groups students, the way the curriculum is designed, and the way school buildings are laid out – is designed for standardisation.
(Christensen, Horn & Johnston)

Inspectors and quality improvement officers are by definition external, not engaged in the day-to-day processes of learning and teaching in classrooms.  Members of the Creativity group [the expert group brought together by the LTS Advisory Council in 2011 – LO’D] reported that whilst some professionals might perceive such external evaluation as helpful and supportive in guiding their ‘journey to excellence’, others felt rather less positive about inspection and quality assurance processes, perceiving inspections and local authority visits as being about busy, disengaged officials making rather superficial snapshot judgments before moving on to the next establishment.  The group considered a range of questions, for example, Are inspection and quality assurance by their nature anti-creative and stifling of innovation? Does it still take a very courageous school leader to protect teachers from the negative impact of inspection and quality assurance visits on classroom creativity?

There has been significant progress in Scotland towards establishing approaches to inspection and quality assurance that are more collegiate, participative and balanced, and promote self-evaluation. The group reflected on the extent to which there may be further to go on that journey, including consideration about whether self-evaluation and ‘proportionality’ sufficiently encourage risk-taking among practitioners, and help them to feel confident that they will be judged on what really matters – the outcomes for children and young people that they have agreed, and the extent to which they have been effectively supported to achieve them successfully.

There are many highly creative professionals working in every part of the Scottish education system. Many feel that the pressures and constraints on establishments can make it difficult to achieve a balance between achieving ‘academic’ success and the wider learning that supports the education of the whole child, and that it is therefore difficult for them to support and foster their own and learners’ creativity.  An open and consultative approach to quality assurance which aims to ensure that we look outwards as well as inwards when we evaluate our own performance should be supportive to efforts to promote creativity.  Proportionate approaches, which allow the efforts of school to be recognised and, in a sense, rewarded through the engagement that inspectors and quality improvement staff have with them, should further build the confidence of teachers.

One of the challenges that we face is giving all teachers confidence that these principles will be honoured.  Justified or not, members of the group reported that there is still considerable concern about being harshly or unfairly judged, especially when that judgement is a public one. There is also some anxiety about the standards that are used in making judgments, and whether they properly focus on meeting learners’ needs. The group considered that is an area where we need to continue to build and maintain effective partnership and good communication at all levels in education in order to promote high quality provision for all learners.

[I’m planning on doing a tenth post – a postscript. If you want to give me any comments then contact me through Twitter @laurieod and I’ll do my best to reply. In the meantime have a wonderful Christmas and a great New Year.]

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